The road to recovery: Former Cardinal hockey captain is adjusting to life off the iceAlexandria’s Scott Hennen looks back on a day last summer that could have cost him his life and sees what transpired as a blessing.
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
Alexandria’s Scott Hennen looks back on a day last summer that could have cost him his life and sees what transpired as a blessing.
It’s easier to see that now, eight months removed from the most hectic 24 hours of his life. But at the time, he saw it as the day the game he loves was taken away from him.
Hennen has been a self-described rink rat since he was 6 years old. His dad, Vinnie, is the maintenance manager at the Runestone Community Center in Alexandria. He helped his son grow up in skates, and Scott was willing to do anything to make sure he didn’t have to take them off anytime soon.
“Every day,” Hennen said of how much hockey meant to him. “Every day. It was my whole life.”
His dedication to the sport had paid off for him through high school. Hennen was a senior captain on the Cardinals’ state tournament team last season. He developed into a physical defenseman who prided himself on blocking shots and doing the dirty work – whatever it took to help his team win games.
He knew that was his calling card if he was going to extend his playing career after graduation. He took that mindset into a couple tryout camps with North American Hockey League teams, including the Blizzard.
“I know he’s very dedicated to the game,” Blizzard head coach Doc DelCastillo said. “He works hard. He’s an honest player who plays with a lot of heart on the ice, competes very hard. Those are the things that you notice right away about him on the ice.”
They are the same traits he wanted to show the coaches of the Granite City Lumberjacks out of the American Tier III Junior A hockey league. The Lumberjacks drafted Hennen in the 16th round of the NA3HL draft early last summer.
On July 17, he and his Alexandria teammate, Garrett Skinner, went to St. Cloud State University for a tryout scrimmage with Granite City. Hennen jawed back-and-forth with a veteran player on the team through a few shifts before things finally came to a head.
He had always been a physical player, but this was the first fight he had ever been in. Both players landed punches before things seemed to be coming to an end.
“I just had my hands on his jersey to make sure his arms weren’t trying to punch me,” Hennen said. “I kind of gave him a nudge to try and get him off me and kind of say, ‘Hey, we’re done here.’ Instead, I think he fell or pulled me down, but my hands were tied up.”
Hennen’s head was the first thing to hit the ice. He lay dazed on his hands and knees for a few seconds before getting to his feet and skating to the bench. He felt woozy but nothing that seemed too alarming. His first thought was that he might have suffered a concussion.
The coaches had him looked over and told him he wasn’t going back on the ice. He showered and got dressed before driving to get a bite to eat at a nearby Arby’s. It was there that he noticed blood dripping out of his nose.
“I knew something was wrong,” Hennen said. “I had to go to the ER. I wasn’t going to. I thought I just had a concussion, and I was just going to deal with it when I got home.”
Hennen went to the emergency room at the St. Cloud Hospital. He explained what had happened and had his vitals checked before signing a release form an hour and a half later so he could return to the rink to watch Skinner’s last game. Once he was there, he developed a headache that almost knocked him out.
Hennen slept for a short while on the way home as Skinner got them both back to Alexandria. He couldn’t shake the headache and decided to call his chiropractor, Brian Bymers, to see if he could take a look at him on short notice.
“I JUST WANTED TO BE OK”
Bymers was the one who urged him to check into the ER again after examining him. Hennen was apprehensive but gave in to the requests of his sister, Kayla.
He checked into Douglas County Hospital where he was given an MRI on his head. Doctors immediately discovered that it was worse than anything he ever imagined. Hennen had a hemorrhage between the dura mater and his skull the size of two golf balls.
“I didn’t know what happened,” he said. “I was just in shock…I just wanted to be OK. It was such a life-changing thing. One minute you’re OK and the next minute you’re being rushed down to the ER.”
Hennen was rushed back to St. Cloud by ambulance where they prepared to perform emergency surgery. The doctors couldn’t believe he was even conscious when he arrived at the hospital.
The surgery to relieve pressure on his brain lasted almost an hour.
“Long,” his father, Vinnie, said about what that hour felt like. “One thing is that the hospital kept us informed every 15-20 minutes on how things were going, so we didn’t have that initial long wait. They would call down and let us know that things were going well, so that helps relieve a lot of the tension.”
BACK IN THE GAME
Hennen’s recovery after the surgery went smoothly. He spent the next day in the ICU and was beginning therapy walking sessions by the middle of the week. He returned home that following Friday.
To see him now, one would never know what Hennen went through that week. His hair has grown back, covering the scar that shows how close he was to having his life altered considerably. He has had to ease his way back into things like running and weight lifting. One of the last effects he still feels are headaches, but those too are becoming few and far between.
Everything is almost back to normal – everything except his ability to play the game he’s loved for years. Hockey has been the first thing on his mind for as long as he can remember. It remained that way until his doctor told him his playing days were over in the ICU after his surgery.
“I just started bawling,” he said. “I didn’t want this to end.”
Doctors told him he needed to live his life after leaving the hospital. The problem was his whole life had revolved around hockey. That meant he needed to find a different way to get involved in the sport.
The Alexandria Blizzard gave him that chance almost two weeks after getting out of the hospital. DelCastillo knew Hennen would be in Alexandria over the winter, so he approached him about helping out with the team.
Hennen has gotten close with the Blizzard players this season after being at every home game. He spends time in the locker room, keeps stats and does almost anything they need him to do.
“He is a part of our team,” DelCastillo said. “He didn’t lose that aspect. He’s a part of hockey.”
It was during an open skate at a Blizzard practice when Hennen put the skates back on for the first time. It took some encouragement from his dad before he finally decided it was time.
“I was so nervous,” he said. “I put them on, and I was shaky. It felt great though to actually do it.”
Hennen says he still watches Blizzard games and thinks what if? What if he had used a little more composure that day? Maybe it would still be him out there on the ice.
“When I look back at it, I see that I wasn’t disciplined enough,” he said. “For hockey, you need to be disciplined. There’s a right time to fight and a right time not to, and the time I fought, it was stupid…that’s where I failed that day.”
Slowly but surely, Hennen is starting to put that regret behind him. He spent the winter months refereeing youth hockey games in Alexandria. He plans on enrolling at the University of North Dakota this fall where he hopes to play hockey in non-contact intramurals. Coaching could be on the horizon, as well.
Hennen is resigned to the fact that those are his options when it comes to staying involved in hockey. He seems content with that. Hennen even laughs now when going through pictures and talking about that day.
He knows how close he was to not being here to tell the story. What if he had gone to bed early that night in an attempt to sleep off the headache? Chances are, he wouldn’t have woken up. He said he still thinks about that every day, and every day he comes to the same conclusion.
“I’m blessed,” Hennen said. “I don’t take a day for granted anymore. You get a whole new lease on life. Every day I’m thankful for.”